20 September 2022
To popular music devotees, the very name Carole King sparks delight and admiration; her list of song hits is long and impressive and in her collaboration with Gerry Goffin achieved great fame and a place in history. Her name is much less widely known than her songs, which are still regularly heard today; ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’, ‘The Loco-Motion’, ‘Take Good Care of My Baby’ to name but a few.
The success of the musical ‘Beautiful’ – first performed in 2013 is, therefore, something of a surprise; but a hit it has been. A retrospective telling of the singer/songwriter’s story – her stormy relationship with husband Goffin and the friendly rivalry with fellow artists Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann – is jam-packed with songs from the 1960s and 1970s.
This new production directed by Nikolai Foster, incorporates a cast who multi-task – all performing the music as part of the action. Though this is admirable and impressive, it also makes the stage very busy; every number seems to become slightly overblown. As such, the story of King becomes subsumed by the music and telescoped into a limited precis. Something is lacking. Emotional depth in the writing is scant and it is difficult to really connect with the characters; the music can’t do all the work. Too much of the real story is ditched in order to shoehorn in more music.
The utilitarian design – a very basic recording studio – is just that – it’s simplistic and rather reminds me of sets we built at school. Sound issues were particularly prevalent with backing singers overwhelming the lead vocalists. Presentation-wise, I was underwhelmed.
The one aspect of the show which really does stand out is the performance of Molly-Grace Cutler as King. Vocally wonderful, she brings great passion and the distinctive nuances of Carole King’s voice incredibly effectively to the songs. Tom Milner is impressive as the talented, but disturbed Goffin and Seren Sandham-Davies and Jos Slovick bring humour to their roles as Weil and Mann.
Alexander Zane has a titanic task as musical director with musicans all over the stage and effortlessly combines this with spots as Neil Sedaka and one of the Righteous Brothers.
‘Beautiful’ is a perfectly entertaining piece of work, but I believe there is a stronger story trying to break out of it and this current production seems to stifle it.
CAST & CREATIVES
NAOMI ALADE – THE SHIRELLES
KEMI CLARKE – THE DRIFTERS
CHRIS COXON – SWING
MOLLY-GRACE CUTLER – CAROLE KING
AMENA EL-KINDY – THE SHIRELLES
LOUISE FRANCIS – THE SHIRELLES
CLAIRE GREENWAY – GENIE
JESSICA JOLLEYS – SWING
SORRELL JORDAN – BETTY & MARILYN WALD
JORDAN LOUIS-FERNAND – DRIFTER
MYLES MILLER – THE DRIFTERS
TOM MILNER – GERRY GOFFIN
PETER MOONEY – NICK & RIGHTEOUS BROTHER
GARRY ROBSON – DONNIE KIRSHNER
SEREN SANDHAM-DAVIES – CYNTHIA WEIL
JOS SLOVICK – BARRY MANN
ADRIEN SPENCER – SWING
KEVIN YATES – THE DRIFTERS & LOU ADLER
ARAYA PHILLIPS – VOICE OF YOUNG CAROLE
BOOK – DOUGLAS MCGRATH
WORDS & MUSIC – GERRY GOFFIN & CAROLE KING & BARRY MANN & CYNTHIA WEIL
DIRECTOR – NIKOLAI FOSTER
SET DESIGN – FRANKIE BRADSHAW
CHOREOGRAPHER – LEAH HILL
COSTUME DESIGN – EDD LINDLEY
LIGHTING DESIGN – BEN CRACKNELL
SOUND DESIGN – TOM MARSHALL
MUSICAL DIRECTOR – ALEXANDER ZANE